Eat what I say, not what I’ve eaten!

My children are currently on a hunger strike because of tonight’s dinner. I’ve cut back the starch portions of their plates in an attempt to force some healthier eating on them, but they’re as stubborn as I am, and the almond-meal-crusted chicken tenderloins, brown rice pasta, and fresh green beans have thrown them into a rare instance of collaboration, aka mutiny. I foresee a pre-bedtime emergency yogurt rationing.

I don’t know exactly where everything went wrong, but in spite of their first bites of Earth’s Best organic baby food and those early, enthusiastically devoured plates of whole wheat spaghetti and peas, my children have become enthralled with anything canned, boxed or bagged. Left up to them, we would cycle through Kraft mac and cheese, dinosaur-shaped chickenish nuggets, and anything Boyardee and his lackeys can shove into a tin. I’ve begun personifying the trash can in attempt to lessen the pain of throwing away three full plates of vegetables and grass-fed meat several nights a week. His name is Benny, and he, for one, appreciates my cooking. At least he doesn’t threaten to throw up if he has to eat another bite.

Each of my three blessings has their own tactic for consuming as little possible of my hellish, food-based meals. Billy the Kid had cruised through two months of second breakfasts and hot lunches before I received a bill from his school and had a talk with him about what Santa leaves for little boys who stealthily toss the contents of their lunch bags. He still gets sneaky when I take a nap with the girls on days he’s home with a cold. I came downstairs Monday afternoon to find him completely naked, an empty pudding container left on the table, a stool in front of the fridge, and two juice pop wrappers on the floor. I reigned in retribution upon noticing he had taken to heart our conversation about the necessity for a nudist to always carry, and sit on, a towel.

Sally the Slugger relies less on subterfuge. She just refuses to eat much of anything, answering her parents’ question, “how did we combine to produce a dainty individual,” on a daily basis. She schedules her requests for “something dee-licious” as far from actual meal times as possible. 2:30 PM: “I want a cupcake!” We have none. Tears and wails for the next 45 minutes reinforce my incompetence in the pastry maintenance department. This morning I stood up for myself and denied her demand for breakfast grilled cheeses. She’d been up since six and didn’t eat a crumb until lunch, which was…wait for it…grilled cheese. It’s as if some greater power has been watching me for my whole life with a raised brow, and it finally found the perfect vehicle by which to deliver my comeuppance.

My brood’s collective behavior triggers long-forgotten nuggets from my own childhood, like driving my poor mother straight out of her soft-spoken, calm demeanor with one too many refusals of anything other than bread and jam. That Frances story was the worst purchase she ever made, assuming it would head off fussy eating. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could live in a world of white bread and strawberry jelly, but Frances trail-blazed, and I followed her sticky, nutrient-void lead all the way into adulthood, trading fruit spread for cheese and broadening my horizons to include ham, Doritos, and sweet gherkin pickles. My palate eventually expanded to embrace even the grilled cheese, bacon and tomato with Dijon. While I can pull off a mean Duck a l’Orange and a stately crown roast of lamb, I’m happiest when shoveling chips into a sandwich and topping Bremner wafers with muenster.

The least abusive of my offspring, Linebacker Linda, tiny but unexpectedly muscular, is a protein queen. Smoked salmon, sushi, pepperoni and turkey last through one meal at our house, regardless of amount purchased. Yesterday I served lovely plates of diced melon (two kinds!), sliced apples, crustless PB&Js, and a few pieces of cut-up lox. Then a few more. Then the half-pound was gone, and Benny went to work on the rest of Linda’s untouched lunch. Thank God she loves her mama, because she could pummel me into a walking bruise with her meaty little fists and iron-filled cannelloni arms.

Tomorrow evening I’ll take a vacation from our own Hunger Games with a (home-made) pizza. I’ve earned a night off from the collective gripe. But if anyone gives me crap after cutting them off at two cups of Ovaltine in the morning, they’ll be eating my wrath in the form of gluten-free crust and faux cheese.

There may be alternate realities, but I can’t see why I should care.

My approach to life is “prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” an outlook I like to think of as pragmatism rather than pessimism. There are definite pros to going through life with your psyche braced in the crash position but still singing show tunes, and while I’m often mortified, I’m rarely shocked. Since I’m constantly running horrible hypothetical situations in my brain’s background, when bad things actually happen, instead of panic, I experience more of an annoyed, “well, here we are then” resolve. Blood has little effect on me, even the sight of my own or my children’s, but there’s one sound that momentarily paralyzes and punches me with a wave of nausea. I imagine the sound of a child’s head hitting a hard surface is, for me, the emotional equivalent of someone with testes taking a blow to the groin.

I use to love trips with the kids to the grocery store, but I fear I’ll never again enter the market with anything other than dread and hypervigilance. Traveling lighter than usual with just the girls, I didn’t think twice about putting both of them in a regular cart since no two-seaters or buggies were available. Linda is the default strap-in, with her impressive and perfectly lady-like upper body strength, so she rode up front while Sally enjoyed the roomy “back seat.” Always the alert mother, I corrected Sally each of the countless times she started to stand up, gently tugging on her hood to sit her back down. That is, until I carefully positioned the last item in the her food nest, at which point she grabbed the edge of the cart with both hands, hoisted herself over two gallons of milk and did a full flip before landing on her head and back like the sack of potatoes Linda was chewing through while cradling like a baby.

Several workers responded immediately to my “OHMYGOD!” followed by Sally’s wails, and all three became slightly unhinged upon learning of the accident. My gracious decline of their offer to call for an ambulance and calm demeanor while I comforted her unsettled them further, even though she stopped crying after about a minute. I gently checked for lumps, redness, and dents, found none, and thanked them for their concern as we proceeded to checkout, Sally now being carried and immensely happy about it.

Once we finished our errands, picked up Billy the Kid from preschool, and unpacked the groceries back home, the inevitable nausea I’d stifled for the sake of appearances caught up with me, and I started off the afternoon with a wonderfully empty stomach. It occurred to me to call the doctor and see if they’d like me to bring her in, but then I remembered that I’m her mother and know when my children are absolutely fine. In fact, she began walking on her own for the first time several hours after the incident and put away a half dozen fish sticks for dinner.

I appreciate how fortunate we were today, but I’ll sleep just fine tonight in spite of the scare. While an optimist might stay awake after the fact, tormenting themselves by reliving the incident and imaging all those dreadful what-could-have-happened’s, I’ve efficiently gotten my self-inflicted mental anguish out of the way ahead of time, and the inevitable occurrence was much less horrific than my imagination’s various outcomes. I really can’t say enough about the magnificence of planning ahead.

Twins, buns, and a promise of ribs.

As poor, patient Billy the Kid strains to hear the baby-appropriate Care Bears movie over the girls’ wails of outrage, I’ve braced myself with a rare shot of amaretto and snuck into the office for ten minutes of off-the-clock. I freely admit that I don’t care for babies. I love my children furiously, and I can heartily appreciate the beauty of an unrelated sleeping infant, but to me, the first six months of an individual’s life is the most miserable phase for everyone involved.

Before BK came along, I had held a total of three infants over the course of my life, and I’m counting my little brother when I was five. Mothering was not something that came naturally, but I figured it out. I was completely unprepared, however, for my two simultaneous miracles, and I’m glad that I did absolutely no research into what to expect, because nothing could have prepared me for double teething, double stomach bugs, double baby-boredom, incongruent sleep/nap patterns and feeding schedules, and the general level of anger constantly directed right toward me. My one assumption could not have been more incorrect; I figured that my girls would come out of me with an already-developing bond, and that they would divert each other for hours, cooing at one another and holding hands, unwilling to be separated. In short, I thought baby-distraction would be easier with two than one.

Not the case. Within the first few weeks, it became clear that my twins deeply resented each others’ existence, and all attempts to bond them failed miserably. If a sleeping twin heard the other sucking on a bottle, she’d wake up screaming, even if she had eaten within the hour. If one felt the other within reach, frantic clawing and shoving would commence immediately. The most unsettling manifestation was that one’s crying would soothe the other to sleep.

I suppose that this dynamic is due to several factors, the first being that they grew in two separate sacks within the womb, and both came out under the illusion they were singletons, and entitled ones at that. Second, I’ve never been much of a Dairy Queen, and I’m sure the first month’s competition for food had them constantly on edge. Now, finally, at a little over four months, they’ve started making eye contact and interacting, and I’ve counted three smiles at one another so far this past week. Might things be looking up at Chez Miserables?

I wrote the above paragraphs several evenings ago. All three of my wards are now sick with a cold (the blue bulb is working overtime and not winning any fans), and the girls’ teeth are poking through. Add to that one case of diaper rash so sinister that it necessitated a visit to the pediatrician. A detailed visual description of an angry bum is not, evidently, adequate information for an allotment of the coveted prescription bun-cream. At least the good Doctor Y assured me that I was not at fault for the unfortunate event through any negligence or sub-par wiping, but that the culprit was the acidity of “sick poop.” I now see how silly it was to look forward to an exchange with another adult after my recent quarantine.

At this point in the evening, the only thing I’m holding onto is the fast-approaching dinner of Malta-Glazed Short Ribs that’s just finishing up its three-hour cooking time. You tried to break me once again, day, but as always, I’m keeping smug superiority alive and well.

How to Appear to Be a Fantastic Mother

I haven’t tried anything new for dinner since the snow started, so I thought I’d take a break from the culinary arena and focus, for an entry, on parenting. Feel free to leave immediately if this is of no interest, as it’s barely interesting to me. Now that my ventures into the public sphere involve managing the life systems and temperaments of three individuals aside from myself, I find that a surprising number of people not only notice my juggling skills, but take the time to point out that (most commonly) I sure do have my hands full, (frequently) they have no idea how I do it, and (occasionally) that I must have the patience of a saint. I do, nor do I, and no, no I don’t.

A background in Meetings & Events — respect the caps — has enabled me to take a possibly unique view of parenting. The world is a trade show, and your kids are your salesteam. The product: your appearance as a fantastic mother. In this regard, the office (home) is full of Debbie Downers who want to complain all day and do as little actual work as possible. My job is to make sure what happens behind the scenes stays behind the scenes, and that my salesteam hits the booth (grocery store, playgroup) during those twenty minutes they’re at their shiniest and brightest. A non-negotiable system of bonuses (gumballs, lollypops) and disciplinary actions (I will carry you to the car like a baby in two seconds) is imperative, and your unwavering, iron-fisted follow-through must be at the constant forefront of your team’s minds during all “on” time. My kids can run around naked and screaming when we’re at home for all I care, but when we’re out, the direction is to bottle it and button it.

The office-based part of my work day includes plenty of time for my team members to work through their differences and generally air their petty wrath in a room free of anything that could be fashioned into a weapon. All of that bottled rage built up during “booth duty” can be released far from judging eyes, and the team reappears well-mannered and reasonable for their next shift. I once had a boss who called his weekly staff gatherings “rocks meetings,” the idea being that we’d cover the biggest items first, then down the priority list as time allowed. I think, at least, that was the metaphor; when he explained it he talked a lot about pebbles and boulders. Needless to say, his name was quickly removed from my cookie distribution list. Anyway, I have reappropriated the term for the substantial chunks of time my underlings spend whacking their rock-like heads into things and each other in the throws of their collective dissatisfaction. The containment of their fury to the main boardroom (living room) frees up the rest of the house for cleaning. This is imperative in appearing to be a fantastic mother, as no one witnesses the freedom (neglect) bestowed upon the subordinates, which enables her to maintain shiny floors and dust-free surfaces.

Organization is an apparently fantastic mother’s number one necessary neurosis. There is nothing that cannot be improved through the implementation of a carefully constructed system. Things get boxes, actions get policies. Each thing in my house that measures under six square inches is currently in a bin, box, basket or drawer. Baths, feedings, meals, diaper changes, travel preparation, naps, bedtimes, and so on are carried out in the exact same manner for each instance. Never waiver, and never let a “must-happen” become a topic of discussion. The brilliance of policies is that they allow no room for guilt. If a baby cries when it should be sleeping, the checklist includes: diaper, hunger, trapped burp, wet clothing, chin-fold squatter, hair around digit, snuggle want. If crying persists after the checklist has been completed and the baby is obviously not sick, let it sing its joyful song for the duration of two cigarettes and a Diet Coke, and it’ll most likely be out cold upon your return check.

Speaking of the kind of noise level that literally drives some mothers insane, Pena Co. is currently under threat of a takeover by Teething Corp, and there are about two hours total per day of relative quiet. But that just means that I’m taking advantage of my prescription for something that knocks the racket down from mind-numbing to mildly annoying. That’s another odd effect of appearing to be a fantastic mother of three small children – therapists will prescribe us anything. I don’t pretend that mine is the hardest job in the world because 1) it isn’t, and 2) I don’t make it as hard as it possibly could be. Yet a baffling number of people consider staying at home with over two under-fours unfathomable. However, the difference between supporting self-important marketing executives and salespeople who drink whatever’s within reach and submit for reimbursement on their daily McDonald’s breakfast, and keeping three small children alive, healthy and not miserable is a slight one, indeed.

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